Jidaigeki (時代劇, lit. "era drama") is a genre of film, television, video game, and theatre in Japan. Literally meaning "period dramas", they are most often set during the Edo period of Japanese history, from 1603 to 1868. Some, however, are set much earlier—Portrait of Hell, for example, is set during the late Heian period—and the early Meiji era is also a popular setting. Jidaigeki show the lives of the samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants of their time. Jidaigeki films are sometimes referred to as chambara movies, a word meaning "sword fight", though chambara is more accurately a subgenre of jidaigeki. Jidaigeki rely on an established set of dramatic conventions including the use of makeup, language, catchphrases, and plotlines.

Samurai actors
Actors playing samurai and ronin at Kyoto's Eigamura film studio


Actor Kotaro Satomi on the set of Mito Kōmon

Many jidaigeki take place in Edo, the military capital. Others show the adventures of people wandering from place to place. The long-running television series Zenigata Heiji and Abarenbō Shōgun typify the Edo jidaigeki. Mito Kōmon, the fictitious story of the travels of the historical daimyō Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and the Zatoichi movies and television series, exemplify the traveling style.

Another way to categorize jidaigeki is according to the social status of the principal characters. The title character of Abarenbō Shōgun is Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shōgun. The head of the samurai class, Yoshimune assumes the disguise of a low-ranking hatamoto, a samurai in the service of the shogun. Similarly, Mito Kōmon is the retired vice-shogun, masquerading as a merchant. In contrast, the coin-throwing Heiji of Zenigata Heiji is a commoner, working for the police, while Ichi (the title character of Zatoichi), a blind masseur, is an outcast, as were many disabled people in that era. In fact, masseurs, who typically were at the bottom of the professional food chain, was one of the few vocational positions available to the blind in that era. Gokenin Zankurō is a samurai but, due to his low rank and income, he has to work extra jobs that higher-ranking samurai were unaccustomed to doing.

Whether the lead role is samurai or commoner, jidaigeki usually reach a climax in an immense sword fight just before the end. The title character of a series always wins, whether using a sword or a jutte (the device police used to trap, and sometimes to bend or break, an opponent's sword).


Sengoku-jidai (Warring States era setting) is a Japanese genre that has been used as the setting for novels, films, video games, anime and manga. It bears some parallels with the Western; Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, for example, was remade in a Western setting as The Magnificent Seven.


Among the characters in jidaigeki are a parade of people with occupations unfamiliar to modern Japanese, and especially to foreigners. Here are a few.


The warrior class included samurai, hereditary members in the military service of a daimyō or the shōgun (themselves samurai). Rōnin, samurai without masters, were also warriors, and like samurai, wore two swords; they were, however, without inherited employment or status. Bugeisha were men, or in some stories women, who aimed to perfect their martial arts, often by traveling throughout the country. Ninja were the secret service, specializing in stealth, the use of disguises, explosives, and concealed weapons.


Craftsmen in jidaigeki included metalworkers (often abducted to mint counterfeit coins), bucket-makers, carpenters and plasterers, and makers of woodblock prints for art or newspapers.


In addition to the owners of businesses large and small, the jidaigeki often portray the employees. The bantō was a high-ranking employee of a merchant, the tedai, a lower helper. Many merchants employed children, or kozō. Itinerant merchants included the organized medicine-sellers, vegetable-growers from outside the city, and peddlers at fairs outside temples and shrines. In contrast, the great brokers in rice, lumber and other commodities operated sprawling shops in the city.


In the highest ranks of the shogunate were the rojū. Below them were the wakadoshiyori, then the various bugyō or administrators, including the jisha bugyō (who administered temples and shrines), the kanjō bugyō (in charge of finances) and the two Edo machi bugyō. These last alternated by month as chief administrator of the city. Their role encompassed mayor, chief of police, and judge, and jury in criminal and civil matters.

Banya, Jidaigeki set 2002
Ban'ya, Toei Uzumasa Studios

The machi bugyō oversaw the police and fire departments. The police, or machikata, included the high-ranking yoriki and the dōshin below them; both were samurai. In jidaigeki, they often have full-time patrolmen, okappiki and shitappiki, who were commoners. (Historically, these people were irregulars, called to service only when necessary.) Zenigata Heiji is an okappiki. The police lived in barracks at Hatchōbori in Edo. They manned ban'ya, the watch-houses, throughout the metropolis. The jitte was the symbol of the police, from yoriki to shitappiki.

A separate police force handled matters involving samurai. The ōmetsuke were high-ranking officials in the shogunate; the metsuke and kachi-metsuke, lower-ranking police who could detain samurai. Yet another police force investigated arson-robberies, while Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples fell under the control of another authority. The feudal nature of Japan made these matters delicate, and jurisdictional disputes are common in jidaigeki.

Edo had three fire departments. The daimyō-bikeshi were in the service of designated daimyōs; the jōbikeshi reported to the shogunate; while the machi-bikeshi, beginning under Yoshimune, were commoners under the administration of the machi-bugyō. Thus, even the fire companies have turf wars in the jidaigeki.

Jidaigeki dummy Yoshiwara
Licensed quarter on a set at Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto

Each daimyō maintained a residence in Edo, where he lived during sankin-kōtai. His wife and children remained there even while he was away from Edo, and the ladies-in-waiting often feature prominently in jidaigeki. A high-ranking samurai, the Edo-garō, oversaw the affairs in the daimyō's absence. In addition to a staff of samurai, the household included ashigaru (lightly armed warrior-servants) and chūgen and yakko (servants often portrayed as flamboyant and crooked). Many daimyōs employed doctors, goten'i; their counterpart in the shogun's household was the okuishi. Count on them to provide the poisons that kill and the potions that heal.


The cast of a wandering jidaigeki encountered a similar setting in each han. There, the karō were the kuni-garō and the jōdai-garō. Tensions between them have provided plots for many stories.


There are several dramatic conventions of jidaigeki:

  • The heroes often wear eye makeup, and the villains often have disarranged hair.
  • A contrived form of old-fashioned Japanese speech, using modern pronunciation and grammar with a high degree of formality and frequent archaisms.
  • In long-running TV series, like Mito Kōmon and Zenigata Heiji, the lead and supporting actors sometimes change. This is done without any rationale for the change of appearance. The new actor simply appears in the place of the old one and the stories continue. This is similar to the James Bond film series or superhero films, in contrast with e.g. the British television program Doctor Who.
  • In a sword fight, when a large number of villains attacks the main character, they never attack at once. The main character first launches into a lengthy preamble detailing the crimes the villains have committed, at the end of which the villains then initiate hostilities. The villains charge singly or in pairs; the rest wait their turn to be dispatched and surround the main character until it is their turn to be easily defeated. Sword fights are the grand finale of the show and are conducted to specially crafted theme music for their duration.
  • On television, even fatal sword cuts draw little blood, and often do not even cut through clothing. Villains are chopped down with deadly, yet completely invisible, sword blows. Despite this, blood or wounding may be shown for arrow wounds or knife cuts.
  • In chambara films, the violence is generally considerably stylized, sometimes to such a degree that sword cuts cause geysers of blood from wounds. Dismemberment and decapitation are common as well.

Proverbs and catchphrases

Authors of jidaigeki work pithy sayings into the dialog. Here are a few:

  • Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi: Like bugs that fly into the fire in the summer (they will come to their destruction)
  • Shishi shinchū no mushi: A wolf in sheep's clothing (literally, a parasite in the lion's body)
  • Kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana: Fires and brawls are the flower of Edo
  • Ōedo happyaku yachō: "The eight hundred neighborhoods of Edo"
  • Tabi wa michizure: "Travel is who you take with you"

In addition, the authors of series invent their own catchphrases called kimarizerifu that the protagonist says at the same point in nearly every episode. In Mito Kōmon, in which the eponymous character disguises himself as a commoner, in the final sword fight, a sidekick invariably holds up an accessory bearing the shogunal crest and shouts, Hikae! Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanu ka?: "Back! Can you not see this emblem?", revealing the identity of the hitherto unsuspected old man with a goatee beard. The villains then instantly surrender and beg forgiveness. Likewise, Tōyama no Kin-san bares his tattooed shoulder and snarls, Kono sakurafubuki o miwasureta to iwasane zo!: "I won't let you say you forgot this cherry-blossom blizzard!" After sentencing the criminals, he proclaims, Kore nite ikken rakuchaku: "Case closed."

The kimarizerifu betrays the close connection between the jidaigeki and the comic-book superhero.

Famous jidaigeki

Video games

Anime and manga

Live action television

Title Network Notable cast Duration Notes
Akakage, The Masked Ninja Fuji TV Yūzaburō Sakaguchi, Yoshinobu Kaneko, Fuyukichi Maki 1967–1968
Mito Kōmon TBS Eijirō Tōno, Ichirō Nakatani, Ryōtarō Sugi, Kōtarō Satomi 1969~2011
Ōedo Sōsamō TV Tokyo Tetsurō Sagawa, Takeya Nakamura, Ryō Kurosawa 1970–1980
Daichūshingura NTV Toshiro Mifune, Tetsuya Watari, Masakazu Tamura 1971
Kogarashi Monjirō Fuji TV Atsuo Nakamura 1972
Ronin of the Wilderness NTV Toshiro Mifune 1972-1974
Hissatsu Shikakenin TV Asahi Ken Ogata, Yoichi Hayashi, Sō Yamamura 1972–1973
Kaiketsu Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Akiko Kujō, Norihiko Umechi, Kiyoshi Kobayashi 1972–1973
Nemuri Kyōshirō Kansai TV Masakazu Tamura 1972
Fuun Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Kazuo Kamoshida, Masaki Hayasaki 1973
Lone Wolf and Cub NTV Kinnosuke Yorozuya 1973~1976
Hissatsu Shiokinin TV Asahi Tsutomu Yamazaki, Masaya Oki, Makoto Fujita 1973
Tasukenin Hashiru TV Asahi Takahiro Tamura, Ichirō Nakatani, So Yamamura, Hiroshi Miyauchi 1973–1974
Zatoichi Fuji TV Shintaro Katsu 1974~1979
Amigasa Jūbei Fuji TV Hideki Takahashi, Chiezo Kataoka, Mikio Narita, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi 1974
Kaze to Kumo to Niji to NHK Go Katou, Ken Ogata, Sayuri Yoshinaga, keiju Kobayashi 1975
Onihei Hankachō NET Tetsurō Tamba, Takahiro Tamura, Akihiko Hirata, Ichirō Nakatani 1975
Edo no Kaze Fuji TV Yūzō Kayama, Keiju Kobayashi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi 1975–1979
Shin Hissatsu Shiokinin TV Asahi Tsutomu Yamazaki, Shōhei Hino, Makoto Fujita 1973
Abarenbō Shōgun TV Asahi Ken Matsudaira 1978–2003
Akō Rōshi (1979 TV series) TV Asahi Kinnosuke Yorozuya, Masakazu Tamura, Mikio Narita, Ken Matsudaira 1979
Hissatsu Shigotonin TV Asahi Makoto Fujita, Gorō Ibuki, Kunihiko Mitamura 1979–1981
Edo no Gekitou Fuji TV Keiju Kobayashi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Yosuke Natsuki 1979
Shadow Warriors Fuji TV Sonny Chiba, Mikio Narita, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shōhei Hino 1980–1985
[Ōoku]] TV Asahi Tomisaburō Wakayama, Tetsurō Tamba, Masaya Oki, Masahiko Tsugawa 1983
Sanada Taiheiki NHK Tsunehiko Watase, Tetsurō Tamba, Masao Kusakari 1985
Dokuganryū Masamune NHK Ken Watanabe, Shintaro Katsu, Masahiko Tsugawa, Kin'ya Kitaōji 1987
Onihei Hankachō Fuji TV Kichiemon Nakamura, Meiko Kaji 1989–2016
Kumokiri Nizaemon Fuji TV Tsutomu Yamazaki, Atsuo Nakamura 1994
Fūrin Kazan NHK Sonny Chiba, Tatsuya Nakadai, Ken Ogata 2007
Jin TBS Takao Ōsawa, Miki Nakatani, Haruka Ayase 2009–2011
Kabukimono Keiji NHK Tatsuya Fuji, Shōhei Hino 2015

Famous directors

Names are in Western order, with the surname after the given name.


Star Wars creator George Lucas has admitted to being inspired significantly by the period works of Akira Kurosawa, and many thematic elements found in Star Wars bear the influence of Chanbara filmmaking. In an interview, Lucas has specifically cited the fact that he became acquainted with the term jidaigeki while in Japan, and it is widely assumed that he took inspiration for the term Jedi from this.[1][2][3]


  1. ^ Duggan, Jedi M. "History of the Jedi & The Jedi Religion". Jedi Sanctuary. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  2. ^ "Trivia for Star Wars (1977)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
  3. ^ "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed". 2007-05-28. about 90 minutes in. The History Channel. Missing or empty |series= (help)

External links

A Diary of Chuji's Travels

A Diary of Chuji's Travels (忠次旅日記, Chūji tabi nikki) is a silent Japanese jidaigeki made in 1927 starring Denjirō Ōkōchi and directed by Daisuke Itō. It was originally released in three parts, all of which were long thought to be lost until portions of the second part and much of the third part were discovered and restored in 1991. Since the film had once been voted in a 1959 Kinema Junpō poll as the best Japanese film of all time, its discovery was significant. At the time of its release, Itō was the leader of a new style of samurai films that featured outlaw heroes and fast-cut sword fighting scenes.

After the Rain (film)

After the Rain (雨あがる, Ame agaru) is a 1999 Japanese and French film. The story is based on the last script written by Akira Kurosawa and is directed by his former assistant director of 28 years, Takashi Koizumi. It was awarded a Japanese Academy Award in 1999. It was chosen as Best Film at the Japan Academy Prize ceremony.

Blade of the Immortal (film)

Blade of the Immortal (Japanese: 無限の住人, Hepburn: Mugen no jūnin) is a 2017 samurai film starring Takuya Kimura and Hana Sugisaki and directed by Takashi Miike. It is based on the eponymous manga series by Hiroaki Samura, covering the first two arcs of the series. The film premiered out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and was released theatrically in Japan by Warner Bros. Pictures on 29 April 2017. The theme song of the film, "Live to Die Another Day", is performed by Miyavi.

Bushido, Samurai Saga

Bushido, Samurai Saga (武士道残酷物語, Bushidō zankoku monogatari) is a 1963 Japanese action film directed by Tadashi Imai. It was entered into the 13th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Golden Bear.

Gate of Hell (film)

Gate of Hell (地獄門, Jigokumon, "Gate of Jigoku") is a 1953 Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa. It tells the story of a samurai (Kazuo Hasegawa) who tries to marry a woman (Machiko Kyō) he rescues, only to discover that she is married. Filmed using Eastmancolor, Gate of Hell was Daiei Film's first color film and the first Japanese color film to be released outside Japan.


Gohatto (御法度), also known as Taboo, is a 1999 Japanese film directed by Nagisa Oshima. It is about homosexuality in the Shinsengumi during the bakumatsu period, the end of the samurai era in the mid-19th century.

Harakiri (1962 film)

Harakiri (切腹, Seppuku, 1962) is a 1962 Japanese jidaigeki (period-drama) film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The story takes place between 1619 and 1630 during the Edo period and the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. It tells the story of Hanshirō Tsugumo, a warrior without a lord. At the time, it was common for masterless samurai, or rōnin, to request to commit seppuku (harakiri) in the palace courtyard in the hope of receiving alms from the remaining feudal lords.


Kagemusha (影武者, Shadow Warrior) is a 1980 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. In Japanese, kagemusha is a term used to denote a political decoy. It is set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history and tells the story of a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying daimyō to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. The daimyō is based on Takeda Shingen, and the film ends with the climactic 1575 Battle of Nagashino.The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and received other honours.

Kunitori Monogatari

Kunitori Monogatari (国盗り物語) is a 1973 Japanese television series. It is the eleventh NHK taiga drama.

Mito Kōmon

Mito Kōmon (水戸黄門) is a Japanese jidaigeki or period drama that was on prime-time television from 1969 to 2011 making it the longest-running jidaigeki in Japanese television history. The title character is the historic Tokugawa Mitsukuni, former vice-shōgun and retired second daimyō of the Mito Domain. In the guise of Mitsuemon, a retired crêpe merchant from Echigo, he roams the realm with two samurai retainers, fun-loving Sasaki Sukesaburō (Suke-san) and studious Atsumi Kakunoshin (Kaku-san). An episode typically starts with some injustice perpetrated by a corrupt official, wealthy merchant or gangster; the travelers arrive incognito, discover the injustice and quietly investigate it; and the episode concludes with a brawl in which the unarmed, disguised protagonists defeat a crowd of samurai and gangsters, culminating with the presentation of the inrō that reveals the hero's identity. Afterwards, the hero passes judgement upon the villains, and sets things straight with fair comments and encouragements, and then continues with his journey.

Samurai Hustle

Samurai Hustle (lit. Mission Impossible: Samurai) (超高速!参勤交代, Chōkōsoku! Sankin Kōtai) is a 2014 Japanese jidaigeki comedy film directed by Katsuhide Motoki and starring Kuranosuke Sasaki, Kyoko Fukada and Tsuyoshi Ihara. It was released on 21 June 2014.It featured in the Japanese Film Festival in Australia in 2014 under the name Samurai Hustle. The film made its Los Angeles premiere at LA Eigafest 2014.

It was followed by 2016's Samurai Hustle Returns.

Samurai cinema

Chanbara (チャンバラ), also commonly spelled "chambara", meaning "sword fighting" movies, denotes the Japanese film genre called samurai cinema in English and is roughly equivalent to western cowboy and swashbuckler films. Chanbara is a sub-category of jidaigeki, which equates to period drama. Jidaigeki may refer to a story set in a historical period, though not necessarily dealing with a samurai character or depicting swordplay.

While earlier samurai period pieces were more dramatic rather than action-based, samurai movies produced post World War II have become more action-based, with darker and more violent characters. Post war samurai epics tended to portray psychologically or physically scarred warriors. Akira Kurosawa stylized and exaggerated death and violence in samurai epics. His samurai, and many others portrayed in film, were solitary figures, more often concerned with concealing their martial abilities, rather than showing them off.Historically, the genre is usually set during the Tokugawa era (1600–1868). The samurai film hence often focuses on the end of an entire way of life for the samurai: many of the films deal with masterless rōnin, or samurai dealing with changes to their status resulting from a changing society.

Samurai films were constantly made into the early 1970s, but by then, overexposure on television, the aging of the big stars of the genre, and the continued decline of the mainstream Japanese film industry put a halt to most of the production of this genre.

Sanada Taiheiki

Sanada Taiheiki (真田太平記) is a Japanese television jidaigeki or period drama that was broadcast on NHK in 1985–1986. It is based on Shōtarō Ikenami's novel by the same title. The drama focuses on the history of the Sanada clan during the late Sengoku period.


Sanjuro (椿三十郎, Tsubaki Sanjūrō) is a 1962 black-and-white Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. It is a sequel to Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo.Originally an adaptation of the Shūgorō Yamamoto novel Hibi Heian, the script was altered with the success of Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo to incorporate the lead character of that film.

Shunsuke Kikuchi

Shunsuke Kikuchi (菊池 俊輔, Kikuchi Shunsuke, born November 1, 1931) is a prolific Japanese composer. He specializes in incidental music for media such as television and film. Active since the early 1960s, he has been one of Japan's most highly demanded film and TV composers, working principally on tokusatsu and anime productions for children, as well as violent action films, jidaigeki and television dramas. His works are comparatively more common in Toei-related productions.

Up-tempo works like those in Kamen Rider and Abarenbō Shōgun form the majority of his works, while his slow background music from long-running series have become some of his best-known works. As anime and tokusatsu like Doraemon Kamen Rider Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, jidaigeki such as Abarenbō Shōgun and Chōshichirō Edo Nikki, and TBS Saturday-night productions ranging from Key Hunter to G-Men '75 became long-running hit series, people began to say that "if Kikuchi Shunsuke is in charge of the music, the show will be a hit."

The song "Urami Bushi" (怨み節) which he composed for the Female Convict Scorpion series was included in the American film Kill Bill and on its soundtrack.

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人, Kakushi toride no san akunin, literally, "The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress") is a 1958 jidaigeki adventure film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune as General Makabe Rokurōta (真壁 六郎太) and Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki.

Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune (三船 敏郎, Mifune Toshirō, April 1, 1920 – December 24, 1997) was a Japanese actor who appeared in over 150 feature films. He is best known for his 16-film collaboration (1948–65) with Akira Kurosawa in such works as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo. He also portrayed Miyamoto Musashi in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy and one earlier Inagaki film, Lord Toranaga in the NBC television miniseries Shōgun, and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in three different films.

Ōedo Sōsamō

Ōedo Sōsamō (大江戸捜査網) and Shin Ōedo Sōsamō (新・大江戸捜査網) are long-running (1970 to 1992) prime time television jidaigeki programs that originally aired from 1970 to 1992. The series was broadcast on TV Tokyo (Tokyo 12 Channel). The title literally translates as "Oedo Dragnet" ("New Oedo Dragnet" for the second series). Early on, it carried the subtitle "Ōedo Untouchables."

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